Five Tips for Combating Stress in College
OBU recently had midterms, and although it only marks the end of the first half the semester, many students find midterms to be one of the most stressful points of their semester, second only to finals. I admit that I tend to get a little stressed before tests. Actually, a little stressed doesn’t quite describe it. Really I’m more like this:
However, I’ve noticed that it is not just midterms that get college students wound up. College has been one of the best experiences of my life so far, but the work load and demands of my classes are far more rigorous than they were in high school. In fact, during my freshman year, I was a mess. I was always doing homework, and I never made time for anything else because I felt guilty if I wasn’t constantly studying. By the end of the semester, I not only wasn’t getting the straight A’s I was working so hard for, but I’d let my health and social life deteriorate as well.
Part of the problem was, at the time, I’d chosen to study science instead of English. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with a science major, it’s a great major, but it wasn’t the right path for me and that probably supplemented the fact that a science major is one of the hardest majors a student can choose.
Again, I’m not saying this to criticize my classes or advocate my current major, but what I am saying is, that I know what it’s like to lose yourself to stress. Stress is a problem that students in every major have to deal with, and it can tear you apart if you don’t know how to manage it. That is why I thought I’d use this blog post to share tips on dealing with stress that I have found helpful through my own experience and through extensive research (meaning that I used Google), so without further ado, here are my five tips on for dealing with stress in college:
1. Make time with God
Mental health experts recommend meditation as a means of dealing with stress, and although they have a different form of meditation in mind than the kind I’m suggesting, I can say with certainty that one’s spiritual life should not be neglected. When I first came to OBU, I fully intended to find a church in the Shawnee area to attend. I ended up going to Hilltop Baptist Church, and nothing makes me feel more refreshed than going to church at the end of every week.
However, it’s not enough just to go to church once a week. You still have to make time with God during the school week, too. Many churches have youth groups during the week (mine is on Wednesday evenings) and other activities for its members. OBU also has on-campus Bible studies that students can become involved in, such as Refuge, a weekly women’s Bible study. Studying the Bible in groups gives students a break from homework, and allows them to meet people and gain support from other students who may be experiencing the same struggles with stress that they are.
In addition to studying in groups, its important to take time to do a daily devotional in private. I must confess that I failed miserably in keeping up my daily devotionals last semester. When a big test is coming up or you feel weighed down with homework, it’s easy to push your devotional to the side and say “I’ll do it later.” The problem is, as the old cliche goes, later usually never comes. The less time I spent with God last semester, the more distant I felt from Him, and the more distant I felt from God, the more stressed I became. Even though you might feel overwhelmed at times, God can give you better support and relief than anyone or any of the other tips on this list. All you have to do is take the time to ask for help.
2. Eat Right
I didn’t even need Google to know that stress can affect your eating habits, and how they can vary from person to person. Some people, like me, eat less when they’re stressed. When you feel overwhelmed, you just don’t have much of an appetite. This can lead to unhealthy weight loss. Other people eat more when they’re stressed. For them, that bag of chocolate covered donuts in the mini-fridge is like a security blanket, and they think that if they just have two or three donuts, or whatever it is they’re reaching for, they’ll feel better. This leads to unhealthy weight gain.
Studies, unsurprisingly, have linked stress to eating disorders. With college students, it’s especially easy to develop unhealthy eating habits, as many colleges have fast food services on or around campus. The best advice I can offer to students, no matter what end of the spectrum they fall on, is to first of all exercise self-control. There are times when you just can’t skip meals, and there are times when you just have to say “no” to snacks and junk food.
The second piece of advice I can offer is to be conscious of your dietary decisions. Admittedly, counting calories is a pain, and nutrition can get complicated when you factor in traits like age, weight, and gender. The good news is that WebMD has some general guidelines for healthy eating: at least half your plate during meals should be filled with vegetables and the other half should be divided between meat and grains. It’s also recommended that you try to eat five different colored fruits or vegetables a day, if you can. And, of course, drink water instead of soda. Other websites like nutrition.gov and chooseyourplate.gov provide nutrition information sheets and other resources to help you make informed dietary decisions.
However, if you and your friends want to get together and eat cookies or pizza every now and then, that’s absolutely fine. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t eat junk food, but the important thing to remember is that making good dietary decisions is part of taking care of your body, and will not only make you feel better physically, but emotionally as well.
I know it’s not everyone’s favorite word, but studies have shown that even a little exercise can reduce stress. It will also help to either curb any unhealthy urges to snack, or help restore your appetite (it certainly did for me). Most college campuses offer physical education courses or have a gym of some kind. OBU has a recreation and wellness center (a.k.a., the RAWC) with exercise machines, weights, a pool, and a jogging track. It not only offers a safe, public workout space, but it even offers dance, yoga, aerobic, and rock climbing classes. You don’t have to be a fitness junkie, but exercise offers students a healthy and non-stressful activity for when they need a break from studying. With the options at the RAWC, you’re bound to find something you like.
4. Get Some Sleep
Sometimes you just have to call it a night.
I didn’t nap much until I came to college. Since the coursework is more rigorous in college than in high school, you’re using your brain in new ways, which is awesome, but also exhausting. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself, and your homework progress, is to take a nap. You’ll feel more refreshed, and able to focus on your homework.
It’s also important to get enough sleep during the night too. It’s recommended that college students get at least nine hours of sleep. That might seem hard to do when you have a ton of homework due, but you should at least try to stay on a regular sleep schedule. Try to go to bed at around the same time each night, and try to get up around the same time each morning. In addition, have a routine for getting ready for bed. It will give a chance to wind down after a day of classes and homework.
5. Listen to Music
Like meditation, music has been proven to help people relax in stressful situations. According to psychestudies.com, therapeutic research has shown that listening to music has helped counter burn out in nursing students, depression in senior citizens, and has even helped medical patients relax before major surgeries (which is only slightly more stressful than tests). Part of the benefit of music is that it grabs and holds your attention, so that you’re more focused on the music itself rather than the problems of the outside world.
Even better than just listening to music is making your own. People often learn to play instruments for therapeutic reasons, and college is an ideal time to learn an instrument. I have a few friends who have learned to play guitar, because they have more free time and it’s a fairly easy instrument to learn (most guitar songs only use two or three chords). OBU also has a whole building full of pianos called the Ford Music Hall. The second floor is reserved for music students, but the first floor is open to all students. I myself learned to play a little piano last year to help deal with the stress that I was feeling. All you need to get started is a beginners music book from a local music store.
If nothing else, the rooms in Ford are sound proof, if you’re looking for a quiet place to focus.
P.S. I have one last tip, that’s really more of a “what not to do.” You might have noticed that at least two of the suggestions on this list involve taking up some kind of a hobby that is unrelated to school. It’s suggested that you try to do at least one non-stressful activity each day, so my tip to you is this: don’t give up the things you love to do just to make time for more studying.
Last year I gave up a lot of the things I loved to do for fun (reading and writing for fun, exercise, music), and the moment I did that was the point at which I truly started to feel overwhelmed. Make time for friends, join one of the clubs or organizations on campus, keep up any hobbies you had in high school, or watch a favorite show on Netflix. Don’t make more sacrifices than you have to.
College is supposed to be one of the best times in a person’s life, and that is why it’s important to manage your time and classes well, so you don’t lose that time to stress. The essential idea behind these tips is that you have to take care of yourself physically and mentally. If you do that, than college can be truly be a great experience.